By The Progressive on September 07, 2007

Eduardo Galeano interprets the curse of Columbus Day.Did Christopher Columbus discover America in 1492? Or was it the Vikings before him? And before the Vikings, what about the people who lived there? Didn’t they exist?

Official history relates that Vasco Núñez of Balboa was the first man who saw both oceans, standing on a peak in Panama. Were the inhabitants of that area blind?
Who gave maize and potatoes and tomatoes and chocolate and the rivers and mountains of America their names? Hernán Cortés? Francisco Pizarro? Were the people who were already living there mute?

We have been told, and still are, that it was the pilgrims of the Mayflower that populated America. Had it been empty before?

◆ ◆ ◆

Because Columbus didn’t understand what the Indians were saying, he concluded that they didn’t know how to speak. Because they wore no clothes, were gentle, and gave away everything they had, he concluded they lacked the capacity for reason. And because he was certain of having discovered the Orient by the back door, he believed they were Indians from India.

Afterwards, during the second voyage, the admiral promulgated an act establishing that Cuba was part of Asia. The document of June 14, 1494, stated as evidence that the crew of the three ships recognized it as such. Whoever said otherwise was given thirty lashes, fined 10,000 maravedíes, and had his tongue cut out.

The notary, Hernán Pérez de Luna, attested, and the sailors who could write signed at the bottom.

◆ ◆ ◆

The conquistadors demanded that America be something it wasn’t. And they treated the Americans as if they were what they imagined the pagans of the Orient to be.

Christopher Columbus said he saw on the shores of Cuba sirens with men’s faces and chicken feathers, and supposed that not far from there men and women had tails.

In Guyana, according to Sir Walter Raleigh, there were people with eyes in their shoulders and mouths in their chests.

In Venezuela, according to Pedro Simon, there were Indians with ears so long they dragged on the ground.

In the Amazon, according to Christopher of Acuña, the natives’ feet were shaped backwards, heels forward and toes behind, and according to Pedro Martín de Anglería, women mutilated one breast to be able to fire their arrows better.

Anglería, who wrote the first history of America, though he never set foot there, also affirmed that in the New World there were people with tails, and these tails were so long the natives could sit only in chairs with holes.

◆ ◆ ◆

The Black Code prohibited the torture of slaves in the French colonies. But it wasn’t to torture them but to educate them that slaves’ masters whipped their backs and cut their tendons when they fled.

The Laws of the Indians, which protected those in the Spanish colonies, were quite moving. But the gallows and pillory set up in the center of every Main Square were even more affecting.

The reading of the Request for Obedience was very convincing. This occurred on the eve of the assault on each village. It explained to the Indians that God had come to the world and left St. Peter in his place, and that the successor of St. Peter was the Holy Father, and that the Holy Father has shown favor on the Queen of Castilla, who rules all this land. For this reason, they should go from here or pay tribute in gold, and if they don’t or if they stay, war would be declared on them, and they would be made slaves along with their wives and children. But the Request was read in the middle of the night from the mountain in Spanish and without an interpreter, in the presence of the notary but no Indians, as they were asleep, miles away, and hadn’t the faintest idea what was awaiting them.

◆ ◆ ◆

Until not long ago, October 12 was Race Day.

But does such a thing even exist? What is race but a useful lie to exploit and exterminate one’s neighbor?

When the U.S. entered the Second World War, the American Red Cross decided that the blood of black people would not be accepted in its blood banks. Has anyone seen, by chance, black blood?

◆ ◆ ◆

Afterward, Race Day became the Day of Encounter.

Were colonial invasions encounters, whether those of yesterday or those of today? Shouldn’t they be called rapes or violations instead?

Perhaps the most revealing episode in the history of the Americas occurred in 1563 in Chile. Indians besieged the fortress of Arauco, depriving the Spanish of food and water, yet Captain Bernal refused to surrender.

From the stockade he screamed out, “There will be more and more of us!”
“With what women will you make them?” the Indian chief asked.
“With yours. We will make them bear children who will be your masters.”

◆ ◆ ◆

The invaders called the original Americans idolaters because they believed that nature is sacred and that we are the brothers and sisters of all those with feet, paws, wings, or roots.

And they called them savages. But they were not wrong about this. The Indians were such savages that they ignored the fact that they had to obtain a visa, a certificate of good behavior, and a work permit from Columbus, Cabral, Cortés, Alvarado, Pizarro, and the pilgrims of the Mayflower.

Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan writer and journalist, is the author of “The Open Veins of Latin America” and “Memory of Fire.”

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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